I have a love-hate relationship with the idea of "progress." On one side, I'm all for it. It's a fabulous way to improve the human condition:
to progress means to grow and learn. On the other hand, progress has often been a step on the wrong direction. Under the guise of
"progress," urban mass transportation methods have been reduced to relics, interstates have come to dominate the landscape, and
nature has been relegated to afterthoughts amid suburban sprawl.
I think my problem with the word is that it has become so abused. Politicians love the word, but convey no real meaning when they use it.
Rick Perry, for example, believes that building eleven (now reduced to three large) coal plants represents progress in maintaining energy
production. The Iraq war is said to "progress" slowly, indicating that the situation is steadily improving. Say what?!
Real progress requires change. To progress, one must first break the chains of the status quo and by doing so question authority. A new
paradigm emerges with innovative ideas that improve the quality of life - that's what progress should be. It's not about opening strip malls
where once stood prairie, or replacing old iron bridges with utilitarian, low-slung concrete structures. Ultimately, progress should be
measured by what legacy we can be proud of to leave behind.
I am always trying to find ways to progress (improve). I read controversial books, listen and give merit to different opinions (except Ann
Coulter!), and get involved in worthwhile causes. The best education for me is traveling; I feel that on the road, I grow.
At the same time, I can be incredibly backwards. I sometimes find myself fighting change at all costs. I am livid about the proposed
Trans-Texas corridor and have made my opinions known. I see most new technology as subtle forms of enslavement (even though I have
a website - never said I was logical!) I refuse to eat new cuisines and am reluctant to read new fiction because I don't want to get
"burned" by a bad book.
What got me thinking about my relationship to "progress" was Salman Rushdie, who wrote (and I paraphrase), that those who oppose
progress are those who cannot think. I ponder what he meant by that. If I oppose the destruction of a venerated building, does that mean
I'm a non-thinking moron? Or did Rushdie mean what I meant when I wrote that progress improves the human condition? Destroying
beauty doesn't better anyone, does it?
I think historians in general will find it hard to define true progress. It's one of those elusive concepts that can mean so many things - and
may not say anything at all.
|Downtown Dallas, where shiny glass and steel overshadow the old buildings - is it progress or not?
|Signs of downward progress can often be hidden in nostalgia. For example, I enjoy discovering old advertising on downtown buildings (above is
a Coca Cola advertisement in Chickasha, Oklahoma). Advocating national brands as opposed to local products, however quaint, ultimately made
many communities lose their identities. So I contradict myself: I wouldn't say that Wal-Mart is progress, but I don't seem to have had any qualms
in reveling in old advertisements of homogenized soda pop.
|A quandary of progress: I love old neon, and lament the demise of these beautiful signs along the highways. Yet when neon first debuted, many
people thought it garish, and towns even relegated its displays to designated areas. Of course, these old neon signs became the forerunners of
the cheaper and utilitarian plastic signs. And didn't Holiday Inn, the homogenized chain that supposedly progressed the motel industry to
respectability, start out as a roadside motel, too? Now I find myself resentful of the chains that introduced neon in the first place...
|Men from any era want to put their own mark on the landscape, whether that be by buidling their own houses, commemorating statues,
displaying huge monuments and tombstones, errecting a building, or simply installing a fence. It seems as if architecture and history are the
actual result of one big pissing contest. Excuse the language!